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How Long Do We Accept Dismal Test Scores

The Sad, Sad SAT Factor
by Fawn Johnson
National Journal
October 1, 2012

The College Board reported last week that 43 percent of college-bound students are academically ready for college. This means that less than half of those who took the test this year are likely to maintain a B- average or higher during their freshman year of college. The figure shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone involved in higher education. In community colleges, it isn’t unusual for three-quarters of the entering students to need some sort of catch-up course. Still, it’s a problem for a country that seems to be in agreement that an increase in college graduates would help grow the economy and shrink the poverty rate.

Let’s look at these numbers a little bit more closely. Math scores have remained stable over the last four years. That in itself is good news, since falling behind in high school math is the surest way to eliminate the most lucrative of college majors–the science, technology, and engineering fields that both President Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney are encouraging. Moreover, educators are well aware that reading and writing is harder to teach and harder to test than math.

Writing scores have declined by four and five points respectively. That’s not good, but it could be worse. And the population of test takers is also expanding, largely in disadvantaged populations. The SAT test takers grew from 1.56 million in 2008 to 1.66 million this year, making 2012 the largest class of test takers in history. The number of test takers who qualify for a fee waiver has increased by 61 percent over four years. Almost half of the test takers this year were minorities (45 percent), up from 38 percent in 2008. The proportion of test takers who came from non-English speaking or bilingual homes increased by 10 points over 10 years.

How significant is the 43 percent figure in judging the quality of the future workforce? Does the expanded population of test takers explain the decline in reading and writing scores? How could the SAT test be improved? Are there other measures that can predict a student’s success in college? What can be done to improve tests on reading and writing? What can be done to improve reading and writing instruction?

Response – How Long Do We Accept Dismal Test Scores
by Jeanne Allen
September 12, 2012

“Does the expanded population of test takers explain the decline in reading and writing scores?”

The simple answer is no, it does not – despite the College Board’s continual insistence to the contrary. What these SAT scores, combined with the equally dismal ACT scores, confirm is that the majority of kids in this country are not ready for college, that more of our students are not being adequately served by their schools, and that a dangerous achievement gap still persists among ethnic groups.

When looking at the total scores of reading, math, and writing combined, white students have made no progress in the last six years, but continue to score higher than their African American and Hispanic peers whose scores have been in a steady decline since 2006. Conversely, the scores of Asian students have been steadily increasing. The average combined score for white students in 2012 (1578) is almost identical to their score in 2006 (1582). African American students’ scores have declined from 1291 in 2006 to 1273 in 2012 and the scores of Hispanic students went from 1371 in 2006 to 1350 in 2012.

We need to ask ourselves, how many more years of dismal test scores are we willing to accept? How many more kids are we willing to sacrifice to a bad education on the altar of the status quo? Because what we have been doing is clearly not working. Student achievement on college entrance exams remains stagnant and we continue to let this failure fester in our education system. Not only are we not preparing our kids for college and careers, but we are jeopardizing their future and the future of their country.

So how do we turn things around? We need reforms that expand educational choices, encourage innovation, and put power in the hands of parents as demonstrated in the film Won’t Back Down. It’s going to take strong reform-minded leaders willing to stick their necks out and insist on real education reforms, who shake things up to increase student achievement that will move us forward. In other words, leaders who won’t accept lip service and platitudes as real reform from those who have a vested interested in protecting the status quo.

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